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1952 Olympics, the women's history

1952 Olympics, Helsinki Finland

Russia returns to the Olympics but this time as the Soviet Union. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), with one athlete, also made its country’s debut. After 1952, the PRC didn’t return to the Olympics until 1984. Overall, women made up 10.4% of all athletes, despite adding several sporting opportunities for women.

Equestrian - For one, Equestrian made its Olympic debut. Lis Hartel (Den) won gold.

Like Wilma Rudolf, Hartel had been stricken by polio but she remained paralyzed below the knee, making riding particularly difficult. Four women competed in the Dressage competition. Equestrian is the only sport where men and women compete together – or said another way, against each other.

Gymnastics – More events were added for women in gymnastics. For the first time in Olympic history, women competed in the individual all-around, the balance beam, floor, vault, uneven bars, and the team event. The Soviet Union and Hungary dominated the medals.

Diving – California’s Pat McCormick won Gold in both the 3m springboard and the platform dive.

The '52 Games were just the beginning of her Olympic career. She won both Golds in the '54 Games, making her the only Olympian to achieve the "double-double" in diving. The US swept the 10m platform in all medals. Pat was an amazing diver. She starting diving at age 10 and was doing flips and twists before they were allowed in the Olympics. She is quoted as saying, "In ’52, I couldn’t use a double twister because the rest of the nations couldn’t do it.” It is said that she was doing dives that the men were scared to do. She was also notable for her work ethic. She dove six days a week and did 100 dives per day. In 1984, Pat started "Pat's Champs," a school program to encourage students to succeed. But not just any students, these students were at the F- level. Along with other athletes that she invited, they worked with the students through high school. Eighteen of those 25 F- students graduated. Her principles: “You’ve got to have a dream, you’ve got to work, you’ve got to fail -- that’s what makes you better -- you’ve got to surround yourself with good people and then you’ve got to help others.”

Swimming – A new event was added - the 400m freestyle, doubling the longest distance women could swim.

Kayaking – the women's 1,500 makes its debut

Track and field – the US win the 4 x 100 relay, building on their dominance in this race.

US 4x100 Gold medal relay team

This is the first time we see more African American women participating in the Olympics. Barbara Jones (pictured) was only 15 years old when she competed in the '52 Games.

Catherine Hardy, Barbara Jones, Mae Faggs, Janet Moreau Photo: Corbis

The Soviet dominance in sport began in the ’52 games with the first Gold medalist in Discus, Nina Romashkova (pictured).

Discus made its debut as an Olympic sport for women.


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